Bryan Dijkhuizen

Marcus Aurelius: Lessons About Negativity & Disappointments That Helps Us Grow

If you’re reading this you probably know who Marcus Aurelius is.

The Roman Emperor was much more than just the leader of the Roman Empire and we know that now, much more than we used to.

Thanks to Ryan Holliday, Stoicism has been gaining popularity over the past couple of years. Including writing a book called the Daily Stoic that teaches you about another way of living.


Marcus Aurelius was seen as the founding father of Stoicism and his wisdom can teach us a lot in 2022.

Here’s what he teaches us about negativity.

Be disappointed

There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed.

It helps us to grow ourselves. When you’re 18-ish years old and going into the world you’re a small vegetable that has to grow before it’s a portion of proper food.

That can’t happen overnight.

We need to learn how to deal with disappointments. They’ll happen a lot and when shouldn’t recoil.

“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Marcus Aureliu

When we are disappointed by something, it’s a lesson. The lesson is something that we are on the wrong track. You must have something else in life that’s calling you.

Try this quick framework for checking your disappointment:

  • Does it feel like you’ve failed in life?
  • Can you do anything about it or is it just a given fact?
  • Are you willing to spend the rest of the year/your life mourning about this one thing that went down the drain?

If you answer those questions with no, you’ll likely get on top.

You can’t beat negativity

If someone tells you to stop thinking negatively, that doesn’t work.

That positive feeling has to come from within and you’d need a big force to empower that right away. It’s like telling a blind person to watch out.

What I realize more and more is that negativity often comes from others.

Why would we have those negative feelings? Because other people are doing certain things that cause them.

It’s simple.

If there are no people, we can’t be lonely, for example. That’s a theory that has found my interest lately. But as long as there are people somewhere, no matter how far away, you’ll have these feelings.

You shouldn’t care.

“But that’s easier said than done” — said everyone

It’s all about Stoicism here: stop worrying about the things that you can’t control.

It’s your life.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
Marcus Aurelius

The Stoic way of thinking goes this far that it says that it’s pointless to worry about events you can’t control. I’ve tried it, but it’s difficult because there are so many frustrations nowadays.

So many people that get on your nerves.

But it’s the fact only that those people don’t care about me, nor my feelings that I shouldn’t care about them. It’s that moment of realization that helps you.

“You have power over your mind not outside events, realize this and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius

Be stronger than the rest

People don’t like strong people.

That’s why you should be stronger. How? By getting calmer when you’re frustrated. Many people don’t understand this.

They can’t see why someone would remain calm in a fight or when having a heavy debate.

It frustrates them.

They’ll eventually calm down or walk away even more angrily. I try to remain as calm as possible and often your counterpart with whom you are fighting can’t stand it.

Don’t over-voice them. You won’t win.

“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”
Marcus Aurelius

Become the thing they can’t be.

Final thoughts

Stoicism doesn’t fix everything, I realize that.

Some people think this philosophy is walking away from problems because you don’t care about things you can’t control.

Partially I agree with that.

It’s not just about you, at least, that’s their argument. I think you should care about yourself until you’re ready to help other people.

If you’re not completely balanced and at peace, you have nothing to offer.

Weekly inspiration and Tips to Rewire Yourself

Sign up to Rewire Yourself for free and receive a weekly newsletter about the most interesting topics to make yourself a better human.

Join 5,000+ smart people